WARREN — City officials, the Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority, the Trumbull Community Action Program and the Oak Hill Collaborative of Youngstown are launching an initiative to eliminate the “digital divide” and provide more broadband access to residents of Trumbull County.
A recent poll ranked the city of Warren the fifth least connected city in Ohio in terms of the public having access to the Internet.
An event to launch the Internet Access Initiative will be held Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at TCAP, 1230 Palmyra Road SE.
“The goal of this initiative is to transform the city of Warren and Trumbull County from one of the least connected to one of the most connected in Ohio.” said Warren Mayor Doug Franklin.
Free computer training courses and workshops, deeply discounted refurbished computers, and assistance in enrolling in low-cost Internet programs are offered at this facility and at various locations throughout the county.
“We have had great success with this model and are very excited to be working with great partners in Warren and Trumbull County,” Pat Kerrigan, executive director of the Oak Hill Collaborative, said.
Kerrigan recently filed an application with the Trumbull County Commissioners to receive $95,000 in American Rescue Plan funding from the county for the Connectivity Initiative.
Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa agreed that this initiative will have important implications for the district’s economic development, and he and Commissioner Niki Frenchko both said the district board will process the application once they receive the green light from the district’s American bailout attorney for the company Baker, Dublikar, Beck, Wiley & Matthews in North Canton.
The lawyer “needs to tell us under which category of fund we can use it and give us language for the agenda,” said Frenchko.
The Oak Hill Collaborative is a 501(c3) not-for-profit organization, and Kerrigan said he wants the ARP funding to expand his “Initiative digital advantage” in Trumbull County.
In the ARP request submitted to the Office of the Trumbull Commissioners, Kerrigan explained the initiative being launched in Mahoning County, which involves qualifying needy households who already receive health care or specialty benefits, Supplement Nutrition Assistance Programs (food stamps), or Social Security payments, as well as the families that receive this receive free or discounted school meals. These qualifying households are eligible for a $30 rebate on their monthly Internet connection bill.
Kerrigan estimates that about 2,500 Trumbull County households, or about 6,000 people per year, are eligible for the monthly rebate as well as education and other computer-related assistance.
Kerrigan said the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Greenboard IT, Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership and some churches in the county also support the initiative.
Kerrigan hopes that TCAP in Warren can become the permanent base of operations for the Trumbull County initiative.
Kerrigan gave reasons why the project should qualify for county ARP funding and responded: “This project is eligible for several reasons. First, improved internet access – which requires adequate broadband connection, affordable internet service, improved computing skills and abilities, and more economical computing hardware – is an essential factor in combating the negative economic impact of the (COVID-19) pandemic, particularly for low- to middle-class residents Income.”
Cantalamessa said the Oak Hill initiative will complement recent gains in broadband deployment that would run along State Route 11 from Ashtabula to Columbiana County. The project, dubbed the Lake-to-River Fiber Broadband Corridor, recently received $500,000 from the state to bridge the digital divide in the region’s rural and urban areas by providing infrastructure in the middle mile and broadband capacity in the last mile have been improved.
“Fast internet access is no longer seen as a luxury, but as an indispensable benefit for things like economic development, better health care, educational opportunities and quality of life.” said Cantalamessa.